Sunday, December 13, 2009

WeWee #5: Chris Gregoire Ate My Baby

I don't even know the story behind that meme

One big story this week with 100 different facets to it.

#1) The Governor's Budget: As required by law, Governor Gregoire released a balanced budget that really takes the piss out of a ton of sacred cows. General Assistance Unemployable? Gone. The state's Basic Health plan? Eliminated. 3 year olds in ECEAP pre-school? Not any more.

In the K-12 realm specifically, we're looking at the elimination of levy equalization ($142.9 million), the K-4 class size reduction money ($110.6 million), all-day kindergarten ($33.6 million), the Student Achievement Program ($78.5 million), gifted ed funding ($7.4 million), as well as a bunch of the categorical programs I listed here.

I'm having a hard time with this. On one hand, the state revenue forecasts don't lie--we're well below the projections that were set, and that hole has to be closed. On the other, there are still pieces in this budget that are impossible to justify given the hole that we're looking at, and frankly it makes her oft-repeated statement of "We've looked at everything with three zeroes" nothing more than the usual political bloviating.

Do I think this was a hard budget to put together? Absolutely. I refuse to grant, though, that this is the absolute best work she can do, because if this is all that Governor Gregoire and our leadership have, I've made some pretty horrible voting mistakes these past few elections.

#2) But There's Taxes Hope on the Horizon: At the same time she was releasing her budget Governor Gregoire was also saying that she'd be releasing a different budget next month that could bring in more state revenue. This could include closing tax loopholes (Dot Foods comes to mind), ending the sales tax exemption for folks from states like Oregon that don't have the sales tax, and a potential $1 billion plus in taxes from things like securities, detective work, and data processing. The first things to come back, should the money come in? Levy equalization, all-day kindergarten, and the basic health plan.

The response was predictable, with Republicans like Sen. Joe Zarelli and Rep. Gary Alexander blasting the budget as a charade to justify more tax increases, while Democrats like Lisa Brown bemoaned the general situation and said they looked forward to seeing what the Governor proposed come January.

(But not an income tax)

Given the way things are going, it wouldn't shock if the deficit by then was $3 billion.

#3) You Can Blame All of This On Eugene Debs and Joe Hill:
There was a good write-up in the Spokesman-Review on how Spokane County officials are pushing for concessions from their union contracts in order to avoid laying off 150 workers. In a similar vein you've got the Fordham Foundation urging Arne Duncan to be more aggressive about challening teachers unions on Race to the Top, and the usual from Mike Antonucci sharing the books that make up his spank bank.

I had a meeting with my staff on Friday morning to talk about the Governor's budget. My district could be on the hook for about $1.5 million in cuts if nothing changes; that's about 8% of our budget. The guidance I need from them is pretty simple: jobs, or money? I can protect salaries as per the contract, but that'll mean a lot of our members are pushed out the door. I can save jobs, but it'll be at the cost of per diem money, supplies reimbursements, and other pieces that I've talked about here and here.

I'm a proud union guy because I've seen the difference that collective action can make, and I make absolutely no apologies for that fact. At the end of the day, though, there's always going to be that tension between the needs of the individual against the needs of the body, and it's finding that balance that is the absolute hardest challenge in my work.

#4) And Moses Walked Through the Palouse and Said, "Lo, Let There Be LEA": Goldy over at Horse's Ass points out that the money that funds levy equalization tends to come from property-rich districts that happily vote for taxes (Seattle, Bellevue, Mercer Island) and goes to support school districts in some of the most conservative bailiwicks in the state, notably around Spokane, the Tri-Cities, and Vancouver.

It bugs me that levy equalization could be political--those districts need that money, sometimes quite desparately--but (and this is a point I've been trying to get across in my WEAPAC work) school funding is based off the state, and it all comes to us through a political process. I'm working with a lot of my small school districts even now on how to get the right things said to the right legislators, and it's quite an adventure.

#5) Well, That Could Be Interesting: Part of the Governor's budget plan is to close the juvenile facilities at Green Hill in Chehalis and Maple Lane in Rochester; I had just mentioned them two weeks back. I'm curious to talk to their local presidents, because what do you do with the union members when the state closes the school? It could be an early preview of what will happen with the State Board of Education school reform plan.

Bits and pieces:

  • It's not looking good for job hunters in the Yakima area. On a 1-to-10 scale of surprise, this rates a negative 7.
  • The EFF has an idea on how the state can save a little scratch. They've clearly picked sides in the War on Christmas, and I'm telling.
  • It really isn't funny, but a headline like Drug Counselor Arrested for Dealing Drugs does lend itself to some humorous quips, no?
  • This made me genuinely and sincerely happy as a kid at Christmas. Similarly, this video sums up several hundred hours of my childhood in one easy package.
  • Pretty interesting thread over at Sound Politics on new legislation from Cathy McMorris-Rogers that would ban certain kinds of restraints used on students. This came up in our own legislature not too long ago, and I'll stick by my same principle: you shouldn't substitute the judgment of an OSPI or DoEd bureaucrat for that of the teacher in the classroom. Not on this, anyhow.
I'm traveling for Christmas next week, so no Washington Education Week until the new year. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2010!

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